Just as Oshima Nagisa’s erotic cult classic In the Realm of the Senses (1976) blurred the line between art house and pornography with its graphic sexuality, so does writer/director Catherine Breillat’s 1999 drama Romance with its explicit, unsimulated sex scenes. But Breillat’s film, like Oshima’s is more than just a sordid exploitation film, as is evidenced early on by the beautiful camera work of Giorgos Arvanitis as we are driven through the night streets and it often lingers seductively over the bodies of half-clothed, or unclothed bodies.
The story follows the beautiful Marie (Caroline Ducey) who is in a sexless relationship with her boyfriend Paul (Sagamore Stévenin). Paul seems more interested in going out to dinner and drinking with his friends or flirting with other women than making love to Marie, who never the less remains devoted to a relationship with him. Eventually, however, Paul’s coldness towards her leads Marie outside the relationship seeking sexual exploration elsewhere. First, she has a heated sexual affair with Paolo (adult film star Rocco Siffredi), whom she picks up in a bar. Soon that isn’t enough for her and she finds herself seduced by older man Robert (François Berléand), who introduces her to bondage and S&M. Her first experience with Robert causes Marie to breakdown in tears, not from guilt, but from a burst of emotion and almost sadness that she had never been able to experience this until now even though she had always wanted to. All the while, Marie returns to unsuspecting Paul who is still cold to her.
As her explorations with Robert grow, so to do her own needs for more extreme sexual pleasures and she begins to slip into a mode of reckless self-harm and nymphomania as she feels the need to be sexually used by men. Eventually after a particularly bad sexual encounter, she returns home as usual to Paul, who surprisingly wants to have sex with her, and just as he is about to complete the deed, Marie offends his sensibilities and he pushes her away, but not before he manages to impregnate her. The two decide to try their hand at domesticity, but Marie, now fully embracing the sexual freedom she has gained feels more restricted than she had in the past when she was trying to please Paul and she turns to a shocking solution to free herself.
What makes Breillat’s film so unusual for sexually charged art house film of this nature is that we see this story from the female perspective, so while some may insist on calling it “exploitation” this is strictly a story of a female journey. From the judicious insertions of narration from Marie letting us in on the thoughts in her head to the unapologetic highlighting of a well-endowed Rocco Siffredi to a graphic scene of child birth, Romance offers an arc of what women all over the world experience emotionally, physically, and visually and could only be told through the lens of a female director.
The film hits Blu-ray from Second Sight Films with a new scan and restoration framed at 1.66:1 in an AVC 1080p encodement and apart from a few scratches in the 35mm source likely too harmful to remove, this looks better than ever. The original film always had a soft, grainy, desaturated appearance and that remains here, but it looks wonderfully organic and now the grain structure looks a little crisper and colors do ‘pop’ nicely, like Marie’s red dress. Also, the black levels and contrast is spot on, which can be seen early as Marie goes driving through the streets of Paris at night.
The audio for Romance is provided in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French LPCM 2.0 stereo. The 5.1 mix is very front-heavy and dry with little atmospherics apart from when music in the nightclub is playing or during brief traffic scenes when we get atmospherics that pan pretty far off into the distance. That said, it provides full and clear dialogue and more natural, laidback sounding room ambience than the LPCM 2.0 mix, where the room ambience sounds a bit more unnaturally forward in the mix, especially during the club scenes.
The Blu-ray for Romance comes with an excellent collection of contemporary interviews with the director, actress Caroline Ducey, and the film’s producer, offering some insight into the production, etc.
- Hard for Art’s Sake: An Interview with director Catherine Breillat (1.78:1; 1080p)
- The Loneliness of the Young Relay Runner: An Interview with actor Caroline Ducey (1.78:1; 1080p)
- Getting the Picture: An Interview with producer Jean-François Lepetit (1.78:1; 1080p)
The Final Assessment
Romance never ran in American theaters in its uncut form, it was edited down to an “R” rating. This UK release presents the uncut original film in a UK:18 rated version, newly scanned and restored. It may be one of the classic art house films, twenty-years on, and is much more than just gratuitous sex. The screenplay isn’t perfect, the ending is a bit abrupt and feels a little hurried after what seems like a rapturous three acts. Still, this is a pleasant film and solid release for those who like this genre of filmmaking.
Romance is out on Blu-ray in the UK on 15 July 2019 from Second Sight FIlms
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